My mother is quickly losing patience with her only daughter. She has given up on lace and frills because of my predilection for climbing trees, crawling under fences and through ditches, scrambling up rocks, sliding down hills of gravel, and playing with frogs.
Every bath time is a battle. “If you’d quit climbing trees,” she admonishes, “your hair would not get full of twigs and sap.”
Not climb trees? She may as well say not breathe.
“Ouch, that hurts,” I whine as she tries dragging a comb through the knots. I am becoming a great actress; I have “grimace with pain” down pat.
I hate long hair, I hate it vehemently. Having long hair is nothing but torment and agony. I can see no reason for it. The worst is when mom and grandma badger me about making it into a real ‘do.
The boys are out of the bath and gone in seconds, while there I sit for hours, and hours, and hours, as my mother tortures me. “Just a quick French braid,” she says. A quick French braid turns into a battle of wills.
Every day I come home from school with my hair hanging like flotsam around my head and I listen to mom bemoaning the fact to all and sundry. She’s so theatrical, I think. Who has time to think about hair while running around during recess?
I am bouncing up and down with so much excitement that I can hear the glassware rattling in the cupboards. After months of persistent griping mom has finally relented. I have been given permission to have my hair cut!
“You’ll have to go right now,” she says. “Once it’s done, there won’t be anything that your dad can do about it.”
She gives me money and tells me to hang onto it. If I lose it, there will be no haircut. I don’t have a great record of remembering about things, and have lost reams of stuff in my short life – gloves, scarves, hats, shoes, bathing suits, pencils, crayons, socks, books, lunch kits, toys, money, jewelry, and food. In other words, pretty much anything that isn’t physically attached to my body.
I am 10 years old and stepping out of my grandmother’s shop all by myself. I have a death grip on the damp wad of cash in my hand. My chest feels full and tight and I have to keep reminding myself to breathe. I am flying. I don’t think that my feet are even touching the cracked and broken sidewalk as I walk quickly to the end of the block.
I pause at the door, unsure about the etiquette of entering a beauty parlor. I decide that I don’t have to knock so I pull it open. A small bell tinkles above my head as I walk in. Five heads enveloped in medieval torture contraptions swivel in my direction, then immediately dismiss me. It’s just a kid, they seem to say with their eyes. The room smells weird. Sweet, with hints of ammonia, and some other kind of chemical. I don’t like it, but I’ve smelt worse and this will not stop me.
“Cut it all off!” I tell the hairdresser once I am ensconced on her magic throne. It goes up and down, and swivels all the way around. My feet dangle over the side and I flutter them in the air.
The hairdresser looks horrified. “Are you sure, honey?” She pulls my hair together into one hand as if she is holding a bouquet of flowers; it hangs almost to the floor.
“Cut it all off,” I repeat.
She runs her fingers through it and divides it into three strands before quickly braiding it into one thick plait. She uses an elastic band to hold it all together and only starts to cut after a nod from me. Hypnotizing, that is what the first few snips of the scissors are to me. Then all of a sudden she is holding a long braid in one hand and what is left on my head hangs down to my shoulders in random lengths. I can tell she is waiting for me to start crying.
With the weight of all that hair gone my head feels as if it is going to float right up off my body. I stare into the mirror in wonder. I feel as if I have to hold myself onto the chair. “It has to be shorter,” I say.
Sunbeams glint off the silver scissors as she begins to style what’s left on my head. She is chatting to an old lady sitting in the chair next to me but I am lost in the mirror. My hair floats down into a tangle of brown feathers around the chair. I want to laugh out loud with sheer happiness. I come out of my reverie when she tells me that she is done. “It’s a Peter Pan Bob,” she says.
My heart sinks. “Not short enough,” I say.
I am running across the street whooping with delight. My head is a helium-filled balloon bouncing around in the wind. I jump over every single crack on the sidewalk magnanimously sparing my mother’s back.
“You look like a prisoner of war,” my grandmother says as soon as I get back.
“I know,” I cackle gleefully. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
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